John Drake of Windsor

Date: Saturday, 6 February 1999 3:40

Whole Number 258     April 1990  Vol. 65, No. 2 
by  Robert Charles Anderson, F.A.S.G.

In my recent article expressing doubts about the parentage of John-1 Drake
of Windsor, Conn., I made the suggestion that William and Acton Drake, sons
of William and Philippa Drake of Ashe, co. Devon, were in fact one person
who was born William and changed his name to Acton at some point in his
life (TAG 63:193-206, esp. 200-1).  Very soon after this article appeared
in print I learned, from two different sources, that William and Acton were
two distinct individuals.

First, and most embarrassingly, the will of Philippa Drake, which appears
in print, names both William and Acton, in the same line!  She bequeathed
to "my son Acton Drake and William Drake and my daughter Joan, now the wife
of Robert Collyns, gent., a ring of gold with a death's head, each of value
26s, 8d" (Frank B. Gay, The Descendants of John Drake of Windsor,
Connecticut [Rutland, VT., 1933] p. xv).  This inability to read what is in
print seems to be a persistent problem for those working on this family.

Second, not long after the article was completed I commissioned Peter
Towey, an English professional researcher, to examine this question for me,
with interesting results.  Two of the sons of William and Philippa, namely
Thomas (the eldest) and William, graduated from Oxford University.  Thomas
had attended Exeter College, received his B.A. in 1612, and was of the
Inner Temple in 1614.  William had attended Wadham College, taking his B.A.
in 1622, staying for an M.A. in 1625, and then becoming a fellow for the
years 1632-37.  The account in Alumni Oxonienses goes on to say that this
William Drake was vicar of Bodmin in Cornwall, and also of Minver in he
same county (Joseph Foster, Alumini Oxonienses...1500-1714 [Oxford 1891]
1:423).  In the Moger abstracts of Exeter wills is the administration of
William Drake, clerk, of Bodmin, dated 31 Oct 1661.

Acton Drake had quite a different career, going into service with the Earl
of Danby, Henry Danvers, whom he named in his will.  Acton asked to be
buried "in the north Isle of Dantesey Church in the Countie of Wiltes,"
this parish being the home of the Danvers family.  The famous antiquarian
John Aubry found in Dauntsey church the following inscription:  "Acton
Drake, Gent, gentleman of his Lo[r]ds[hip's] bedchamber, Ranger of the
Forrest of Whichwode, in Com: Oxford, and one of his Lo[r]ds[hip's]
Executors and faithful servant.  Obiit 1642" (John Aubrey, Wilshire:  The
Topographical Collections of John Aubrey...corrected and enlarged by John
Edward Jackson [London 1862] p. 228).  The date of Acton Drake's will
(1747, PCC 83 Gray)


is indisputable, so the date of the inscription must be an erroneous
reading by Aubrey or by Jackson.

Records survive of three sessions of the forest court of Wychwood, in 1635
and 1636.  On 14 Sep 1635, Acton Drake Esq. appears holding the offices of
forester of Shorthampton WAlk, Principal Ranger of the whole Forest and
Riding Forester of the Forest (Vernon J. Watney, Cornbury and the Forest of
Wychwood [London 1910] pp. 112, 225-28).

The attraction of the hypothesis that William and Acton Drake were the same
was that it made the Drake family wills consistent with one another, and
comprehensive in naming all living siblings in each will.  This position
must clearly be abandoned.

In return, though, we can state much more strongly the high social status
of this family.  Thomas and William both attended Oxford, William going on
to the ministry, and Thomas briefly entering the law before taking over his
father's estate.  Acton, although he did not receive the same education as
these two brothers, was given considerable responsibility as a member of
the household of a royalist earl.  These three brothers were well educated,
were frequently referred to as "Gent.," and in general led lives typical of
the higher county gentry of the times.

One other piece of newly discovered evidence bears on the question of the
social stratum to which John Drake of Windsor belonged.  Among the
manuscripts held by the Connecticut Valley Historical Museum in
Springfield, Mass., are the account books kept by John Pynchon.  In these
account books are financial records for families all up and down the
Connecticut River, in both Massachusetts and Connecticut.  The first
volume, which includes records from the 1650s, shows that John Pynchon
maintained an account with John Drake Sr. of Windsor, and most
interestingly, the contemporary index entry for the page on which this
account appears refers to Goodman John Drake [my emphasis].

This points up more corcefully the disparity between the Drakes of Ashe and
John Drake of Windsor.  This latter man, as noted in my previous article,
had all the earmarks of a good solid husbandman, and the evidence from the
Pynchon account books only emphasize this.  His landholdings were of an
average size, he was not given any positions of responsibility in town or
colony, and there is no evidence that he was literate, much less
well-educated.  All indications are that John Drake of Windsor came from a
much lower social stratum that that of the Drakes of  Ashe.

Mr. Anderson is a genealogical researcher and writer.  He lives at 5069
Cottonwood Lane, Salt Lake City, UT  84117.  [NOTE:  May or may not be his
current address - resided there in 1990]

Family and Heirs of Sir Francis Drake, 2 vols. (London, 1911), hereafter
Eliott-Drake, 1:3-22, 52-53).

Looking more closely at the family of William Drake of Wiscombe Park, we
find that an additional four members of the family left wills.  We note
first that in his will of 1616 William had named three sons (Thomas, John
and William) and two daughters (Amy and Joan).  On 16 Jul 1647 his widow
Philippa made her will (probated 5 Oct 1655), in which she named sons
Thomas and William and daughters Joan, now wife of Robert Collyns, and Amy
(PCC 399 Aylette).  Then on 16 Dec 1647 Acton Drake of Short Hampton Lodge,
Oxfordshire, made his will (probated 15 May 1651) in which he named "my
brother Thomas Drake of Wiscombe" and sisters Collyns and Amy Drake (PCC 83
Grey).  Next, Thomas Drake on 13 May 1661 prepared a will (probated 24 Sep
1661) in which he made bequests to his wife and several children, and also
to sisters Amye Drake and John Collins; in addition, he referred to "my
land called Highly, lately descended to me on the death of my brother Acton
Drake" (PCC 137 May).  Finally, on 24 Mar 1678 Amy Drake of Ottery St.
Mary, co. Devon, made her will (probated 16 Jul 1680) naming sister Collins
and cousins William Drake, Alexander Drake, Dennis Drake, Philippa Safyne,
Dorothy Rose, Susan Rayment, and Robert Collins; brother Thomas Drake or
sister Joan Collins (Archdeaconry of Exeter, as abstracted in Moger
Collection, typescript at the Fam.  Hist. Lib., Salt Lake City).

Before proceeding to discussion of these wills, we must deal with the
problem of Acton Drake.  Kiepura notes that he m,ust belong to the family
of William of Wiscombe, but that he is not named in the wills of his father
or mother.  I would propose a different solution:  William Drake, the third
son of William and Philippa, at some point in his adult life changed his
name to Action.  In his mother's will and earlier

[END PAGE 200]

we see only William; in his own will and later we see only Acton.  Perhaps
he married an heiress of an Acton family, or perhaps there was some other
impetus; further research on this man would possibly resolve the question,
and add strength to our analysis of this family.

If we allow the assumption that William and Acton were one and the same,
then the wills of this family are completely consistent with one another.
The will of the father in 1616 names all five children.  The remaining four
wills, of 1647, 1647, 1661 and 1678, name all surviving siblings or
children of siblings, except John.  While there would be no difficulty in
believing that one will of a member of the immediate family would ignore a
son or brother who had removed to New England, I find it hard to accept
that four members of the immediate family (mother, two brothers, sister),
over a period of thirty years, would fail to provide some small legacy.
The strong implication is that John Drake son of William had died between
1634 and 1647; and since John Drake of Windsor died in 1659, the two men
could not then be identical.

The second objection to the lineage is based on onomastic evidence.  John
Drake of Windsor had five children (whose years of birth are here estimated
from their dates of marriage); Job, b. ca1621, m. 25 Jun 1646; John, b.
ca1623, m. 30 Nov 1648; Jacob, b. ca1625, m. 12 Apr 1649; Elizabeth, b.
ca1633, m. 9 Feb 1653; and Mary, b. ca1635, m. 17 Nov 1655 (Gay, pp. 5-14).
 Of these names, John, Elizabeth and Mary are among the most common in
England, and are of little value as evidence of kinship.  Job and Jacob
are, however, considerably rarer.

When we look at the Drakes of Ashe, we find no correlation whatever.  The
John Drake named in the will of Francis Drake had father William and mother
Philippa, siblings Thomas, William (or Acton), Amy and Joan, and uncles
Nicholas, Humphrey, Bernard, Robert and Henry (Vivian, pp. 292-93).  None
of these names is found in the family of John Drake of Windsor nor among
his grandchildren.  And Job and Jacob do not appear anywhere in the
pedigree of the Drakes of Ashe.  Furthermore, since he was remembered in
the wills of two more distant members of the family, one would expect the
names Francis or Richard to appear, if indeed the identification is
correct.  The evidence of names gives no reason whatever to believe that
John Drake of Windsor was the sanme as the man  named in the will of
Francis Drake.

The third problem arises when we try to find this John Drake in the New
England records of the 1630s.  If John Drake of Windsor is the son of
William Drake of Wiscombe Park, we have certain expectations about him
which should be reflected in Massachusetts records.  Regardless of what his
origins were, in 1630 he would have been the head of a family of five,
including himself, his wife, and three sons, and he would have been about
thirty-five years old.  And if he

[END PAGE 201]

were from a cadet line of the Drakes of Ashe, he would have been well above
the mean in social position among New England immigrants.  As such, he
would have been eligible for land grants in any Massachusetts town in which
he might have lived.

He had been resident in Massachusetts in the 1630s, the most likely place
to find him would have been Dorchester.  The largest group of immigrants
from Devonshire and neighboring counties were the passengers of the Mary
and John, a part of the Winthrop Fleet of 1630.  This group was gathered by
the Reverend John White of Dorchester, co. Dorset; and there is an easily
demonstrated connection between this man and Francis Drake of the 1634
will.  Francis Drake of Esher, co. Surrey, had three wives, the third of
whom was the widow of Josias White, elder brother of Reverend John White.
Josias White had died in 1622, and the second wife of Francis Drake died
sometime after giving birth to her only child in 1625 (Richard Drake pp.
119-20; Francis Rose-Troup, John White, the Patriarch of Dorchester... [New
York 1930] pp. 406, 412-13].  Although we do not have a marriage date of
Francis Drake and Josias White's widow, Anne (Barlow) White, they could
have been married by 1630; and even if they weren't married by that date,
their eventual union indicates that Francis Drake and John White were
already ell known to one another, most likely because the former had had as
his private chaplain in the 1620s Thomas Hooker, one of the most famous of
the Puritan ministers of the time, and certainly well known to John White.  

The earliest record we have for John Drake in Windsor is 26 Jan 1640/1,
when he received his first grants of land (Windsor, CT LR 1:45).  But what
evidence do we have for his presence in New England prior to that date?
There are only three records:  (1) On 19 Oct 1630, 108 men placed their
names on a list of men wishing to be made free in Massachusetts Bay Colony,
and John Drake was on that list; (2) On 13 Mar 1633[/4] Francis Drake named
his cousin who was then in New England; and (3) On a list of the earliest
proprietors of Taunton in Plymouth Colony the name John Drake appears and
this list probably dates from 1638 or 1639 (Alanson Borden, ed., Our County
and Its People:  A Descriptive and biographical Record of Bristol Co,
Massachusetts [n.p. 1899) p. 219).

At the General Court held in Massachusetts Bay in May of 1631, 118 men were
made free, but this list was considerably different from the list of men
who had asked six months earlier to be made free; in fact, only seventy
names were common to both lists.  Thus, there were thirty-eight men who
made the request in Oct 1630, but were not made free in May 1631.  John
Drake was one of these, and a closer look at the other thirty-seven who
shared his fate will tell us something about John Drake.  (The information
below was developed mainly from Savage, Pope, the published Massachusetts
Bay court records, and published town records.)

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a  Two died soon (Richard Garrett and Ralph Glover)

b  Two went back to England and never returned (Thomas Southcott and George

c  Eighteen delayed only briefly attaining freeman status, being made free
at various dates down to 1634, and also appearing in other town and colony
records in the early and middle 1630s

d  Five appear in no other New England record, and must therefore be
accounted as having died soon or returned to old England.

John Drake of Windsor, if he is to be the same as the man asking to be made
free in 1630, would fall within the fourth group, of those never made free,
but still known to be in New England at a later date.  But those ten men
share another characteristic which John Drake does not; they all, like the
eighteen who soon went on to become freemen, appear regularly in town and
colony records in the years immediately following 1630.  For example, James
Pemberton appears as a proprietor of Charlestown in 1633, and in the same
year his wife was made a member of the Charlestown church.  Similiar
records could be brought forward for the other nine.

This list of thirty-seven names can be looked at in another way, since we
would expect to find John Drake in Dorchester from 1630 until his
appearance in Taunton in 1638 or 1639.  Among the thirty-seven are five who
did reside in Dorchester (Christopher Gibson, John Holman, William Hulbird,
John Phillips and Henry Wolcott).  Of these, all but Gibson and Holman
became freemen in 1632, 1633 or 1634.  But all five are found in the oldest
Dorchester town recods, which begin early in 1633.  William Hulbird, for
example, is found on the frist surviving page of the early town records,
under date of 16 Jan 1632 [/3] (Boston Record Commissioners Reprot Vol. 4,
Dorchester Town Records, hereafter Dorchester TR, p.1; see also p.9, 15).
Henry Wolcott is seen on 3 Apr 1633 (Dorchester TR p.1), and is also found
in the Colony court records on 3 May 1631.  John Phillips first apears in
the town records on 24 May 1634 (Dorchester TR pp. 6, 7, 10, 13, 15); John
Holman is mentioned in the Colony court records on 3 Oct 1632, and in the
Dorchester records on 1 Sep 1634 (Dorchester TR pp. 7, 10, 15).  Finally
Christopher Gibson makes his first appearance in Dorchester records on 10
Feb 1634/4 (Dorchester TR p.10, 15).  Not only does each of these men
appear in the town or colony records by 1635, but each appears more than once.

This point cannot be stressed too much.  An adult male with a family cannot
fail to appear in the records of a town like Dorchester if he lived there
continuously from 1630 to 1639.  Christopher Gibson and John Holman are
most like John Drake in that they were on the October 1630 list, were never

[END PAGE 203] 

made free, and lived in Dorchester.  A single man, landless, serving out an
indenture, may avoid appearance in the records for a decade, but not a man
with a family and with a known social position above the average before he
came to New England.

And the fourth objection to the lineage grows out of this known social
position.  The John Drake named in the 1634 will of Francis Drake should
have been a man of considerable prominence in New England.  Although the
will of his father indicates that could have been only a temporary
embarassment (or possibly even a legal fiction to escape taxes or
creditors), for Wiscombe Park was back in the hands of Thomas, elder
brother to this John, as early as 1641, as we see from the will of Nicholas
Drake, brother of William of Wiscombe Park, and uncle to Thomas and John
(PCC 72 Evelyn).  Furthermore, John's younger brother William/Acton had
acquired substantial land in Oxford by 1647, and in 1678 John's unmarried
sister left hundreds of pounds in legacies to her surviving relatives.
Furthermore, John Drake, if he resided with his great-uncle Richard and
then with his cousin Francis, would have become acquainted with some of the
leading figures in late Tudor and early Stuart England.  John was born very
close to the time Sir Francis Drake the Navigator died, but he would
certainly have heard stories of the great man's exploits, and would have
met others with similiar careers.  If he did in fact reside in this
household in Surrey, he could conceivably have been present when Queen
Elizabeth came to dine, and he would have met many of the Queen's ministers
and servants.  This John Drake would have been a well-educated man, and he
would have been entitled to the honorific of "Mr." 

How does this comport with what we know of John Drake of Windsor?  There is
no instance in which John Drake is called "Mr." during his lifetime.  He
does have this title attached to his name in a late list of Taunton
proprietors, dating from 1675, which shows that the share of "Mr. John
Drake" had passed into other hands; but this record was made long after his
death, and even longer after his departure from Taunton, and more likely
reflects the respect paid to the dead than any status he held many years
earlier (Borden p. 236).  Also, his grants of land and the size of his
estate at death were in no way exceptional, and were just what one might
expect of any solid yoeman or husbandman.  (Reading through the earliest
grants of land in Windsor, we find that most of the homelots were ten to
fifteen acres, and JohnDrake had sixteen.  Only a few men, such as Thomas
Stoughton and William Gaylord, had appreciably larger homelots.  John
Drake's inventory showed a total estate of 324/13/00; a recent study of
colonial Connecticut economics shows that this is very close to the average
[Jackson Turner Main, Society and Economy in Colonial Connecticut
(Princeton 1985) p. 66].)  Lastly, JohnDrake did not sign his name when he
came to make his will, but made only a mark.  This could, of

[END PAGE 204]

course, merely mean that he was at that time too feeble to sign his name.
However, an attempt to find his signature elsewhere has found no example of
his handiwork.  He did not witness any of the wills abstracted by
Manwaring; a survey of petitions in the Connecticut Archives (carried out
by Melinde Lutz Sanborn) found no example of his signature.

Summary and Suggestions

I have outlined four lines of reasoning which cast doubt on the
identification of the John Drake named in Francis Drake's will as John
Drake of Windsor:

1  John Drake is not named oin the wills of four immediate family members
or his family from 1647 to 1678.

2  There is no overlap of the names used by the Drakes of Ashe and by the
family of John Drake of Windsor.

3  If the two men are identical, then he should have left traces in New
England records between 1630 and 1639, and he did not.

4  John Drake of Windsor does not have the social status that one would
expect of a scion of the Drakes of Ashe who may lived for some time in the
household of a prominent servant of Queen Elizabeth and King James.

While none of these reason is alone sufficient to reject the proposed
identification, taken together I find them very strong medicine indeed.
These arguments do not constitute disproof, and there remains a slender
possibility that this lineage is correct, since there are no chronological
difficulties, and the likelihood remains that John Drake of Windsor did
come from Devonshire, or from somewhere else in the West Country.  But the
proposed parentage for John Drake of Windsor should no longer be considered
sound, and the burden of proof will be on those who wish to retain this

The most likely solution is that the John Drake named in the will of
Francis Drake died shortly after his arrival in New England, and may even
have been dead at the time his cousin wrote his will.  Working upon this
assumption, what do we know about John Drake of Windsor that would help in
finding his parentage?  First, given his presence in Taunton and then in
Windsor, we can be reasonably certain that he came from the counties of
Devon, Dorset or Somerset.  Second,  we would expect to find him in a solid
yoeman family, and not among the Drakes of Ashe; there were many other
Drake families in these counties, including the family which produced Sir
Francis.  Sir Anthony Wagner notes that in the seventeenth century the
surname Drake "is found in more than 115 parishes" in Devon (Drake in
England, rev. ed. [Concord NH 1970] p. 17).  Third, we are looking for a
man born in the 1590s.  Fourth, the names Job and Jacob are strong clues.

[END PAGE 205]

Given this framework, we can begin to look in English records for this man.
 Remarkably, because twentieth century researchers have been so mesmerized
by the connection to William Drake of Wiscombe Park, no one has ever
undertaken any parish register research.  Wiscombe Park is in the parish of
South Leigh, whose parish registers for the seventeenth century are no
longer extant.  But there are dozens of likely registers which can be
searched, many of which have not yet been abstracted for the IGI.  And even
though the probate records for Devonshire have been lost, there are large
collections of pre-war abstracts which may be searched for clues.  More
generally, a full scale search of all Drake families in this area may be
nnecessary to solve the problem.

Finally, some narrower explorations might be undertaken on the Drakes of
Ashe in order to strengthen or clarify some of the arguments made above.
Acton Drake held land in Oxfordshire and was buried in Wiltshire, according
to Vivian.  Records for this man should be pursued, to see if he really was
the same as William.  Verifying this suggestion would make sounder
conclusion that all other surviving siblings were named in the wills quoted
above, and therefore increase the likelihood that John Drake was not named
because he was no longer living.  Also, the three marriages for Francis
Drake of Esher should be investigated, to see just when he made the
marriage to the widow of Josias White, and therefore, to determine just how
early we can say with assurance that Francis Drake and Reverend John White
were known to one another.

The time has come to befin a fifth phase in the history of the lineage of
John Drake of Windsor.

My thanks to David L. Greene, FASG, Charles M. Hansen, FASG and Neil D.
Thompson, FASG, for reading early drafts of this article and providing
useful comments.

5069 Cottonwood Lane, Salt Lake City, UT  84117 
[NOTE:  Author's address in 1990; may or may not be valid at this date]

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